Digging into the Piper archives, you will find some brands we’ve worked with that were slightly ahead of their time. There was the Loft, a warehouse selling second-hand clothing – the pre-internet eBay? Then there was Cranks, a six-site London vegetarian restaurant brand, slightly too reliant on a small band of hippies. 30 years ago, they were out of tune to the public din around consumerism over sustainability.
A lot has changed since then. We would like to think these brands helped lay the path for the more recent breed of founders and brands (among them the 50 we have backed) that are more obsessive about doing things the right way, treating their customers, community, suppliers and team fairly while looking after the world around them.
The most successful brands achieve all those things while growing sustainably, nurtured by their leaders at the right pace – we call these natural inflexion points ‘7, 17, 70’ (check out more about them in our podcasts). After all, brands are like living organisms, if you grow them too quickly, they will experience growing pains and too slowly and they will lose sight of their purpose.
This is what it takes to grow a true brand legend that will thrive for decades to come. For us, this also means finding good custodians for our brands who will nurture them way beyond our time with them. By working with our brands to become B Corps, we can help entrench their values further.
Over the last five years, we have worked closely with our brands to enhance their thinking around sustainability. Practically, this has meant doing annual baseline reviews tracking their progress on 30 people and environment principles starting at the due diligence investment phase and then throughout the whole lifecycle of our partnership.
And yet, by our own admission, it has taken us a bit longer to pen our own progress and commitment more publicly. We wanted to feel confident enough to be able to be as transparent as possible. Although we are far from where we want to get to, we are proud of what we and our brands achieved. Although hampered by the backlog in becoming a B Corp, we hope to become certified very shortly. Please read the full report here.
In the report, we are proud to say that half of our brands’ leadership teams are women and all our brands have at least one woman regularly attending the Board, which also reflects the Piper team. We are equally proud of the fact that three of our brands are B Corps and three others made it onto the Best Companies to Work For list. Our brands have not only hired an extra 737 full-time people over the last year but have helped nurture their skills into real careers, ever more important as businesses struggle to attract talent.
Having worked with brands across different sectors and business models, we wanted to share some learnings with you:
- Root in purpose. Have a strategy that reflects the brand’s purpose, which will have a deeper engagement with customers, your community and the team – too many are defaulting to planting a tree for every order.
- Get Board support. Each of our brands have nominated a Board-level Sustainability Champion that has a helicopter view of how sustainability impacts across the whole business and who is accountable. We have gone further and nominated a Carbon Champion in every business as well (a FD/CFO is a good person for this).
- Start with data to discover the gaps and where the business can have the most impact. This may mean tracking the make-up of your team or doing a deeper dive into your suppliers.
- Make upfront choices and decide what you want to become great at and what your measures of success will be. The business can’t be good at everything and remember that sustainability is as much about people as it is the environment.
- Do the basics right before going big. Lots of the documentation and processes can feel long and arduous but are essential as the foundations for bigger projects.
- Engage with your team. Take your team on the journey with you as it will make enacting changes much easier and your team more forgiving when you don’t always live up to your word.
- Never stop. Best practice and the tools to get there are constantly changing, so it’s important to continuously have your finger on the pulse.
Over the next year, we will be undertaking granular carbon reporting (scopes 1-3) for each of our brands as well as ourselves, ready to publish in next year’s report. We are also launching a Sustainability Community for all our brands to learn from each other and best discover practice. If you want to pick our brains on any of this, please get in touch with our Sustainability Manager, Georgia Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As always, we will be sharing our learnings with you, warts and all. At least this time we will be singing in tune.